Researchers in the UK recently conducted the first high-profile study of the educational benefit of magical thinking for kids.
OHYMGAWD ENGLAND. Enough already. We get it. The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. Harry Potter. India. You were first people to do everything and go everywhere and be good at stuff. Except for the Romans. And most of Asia. And some big thinkers in Central America. And Spain.
And we Americans? Four words: Moon. Landing. Suck. It.
But I digress. The British researchers in question appear to have set out to prove that Harry Potter is still relevant in a Hunger Games age. The Lancaster University scientists didn’t say that, of course, but why else would you trap 52 four-to-six-year-olds in a room to watch clips of Harry Potter films? Wait. Don’t answer that.
The study went a little something like this: they split the study cohort into two groups and showed them 15-minute clips of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. In England it’s actually titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Well, la-di-dah. One group watched scenes featuring magical content such as flying witches, talking hats, and enchanted statues. The other group watched non-magical scenes. So, you know, Daniel Radcliffe acting.
The four-to-six-year-olds who watched the magical scenes performed “significantly better” on creativity tests than their peers, report the Lancaster University psychologists conducting the study. Researchers Dr Eugene Subbotsky, Claire Hysted and Nicola Jones told Science Daily that:
“Magical thinking enables children to create fantastic imaginary worlds, and in this way enhances children’s capacity to view the world and act upon it from multiple perspectives. The results suggested that books and videos about magic might serve to expand children’s imagination and help them to think more creatively.”
Well, sure. And I’m glad to hear someone suggest that imagination and fantasy are important for children. Frankly, I accepted this without scientific proof. I read Neil Gaiman to my toddler. I’m down.
That our kids can believe in magical things without becoming detached or evil or strange. But a few elements of this study are still gnawing at me. Thing One: 52 kids? Can you really conduct a study with just 52 kids? My rule of thumb for scientific methodology is that if you can’t put up a robust tee ball league with your human subjects, you need more kids. I think the psychology department at Lancaster University was just tired of explaining through gritted teeth that, no, they do not have any Phineas and Ferb.
Thing Two that’s eating at me? I just don’t like the sound of this. Why is England suddenly testing their children’s creativity and aptitude for magical concepts? Sure, as I suggested earlier, with The Hunger Games series nipping at its heels, England needs to keep Harry Potter book sales lively. The Boy Who Lived is Britain’s most important source of revenue after boring Saturday morning television.
But isn’t it also possible that they are laying the groundwork to raise a super race of supernaturally talented evil youngsters? Are you unsettled by the idea of North Korea launching a satellite that just so happens to have ballistic missile-capability while it, you know, just looks for rain and stuff? Of course you are. Then why on Earth aren’t you the least bit concerned that England is planning to raise a super-race of flying children?
I mean, if you’re not worried, fine. But I think you are guilty of magical thinking.